Maude

Photo credit: Eater LA

Maude
212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 859-3418
mauderestaurant.com

This was unexpected…

TV chef Curtis Stone, most recently known as the host of Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels, opened Maude in Beverly Hills at the beginning of the year. But if you’re expecting a large, corporate, tourist trap of a restaurant that usually comes with the territory of being a celebrity chef, then you’d be completely wrong. What we have here is a passion project of sorts for the chef, a small, quaint spot neatly tucked away on the southern part of the city’s Restaurant Row.

Despite spending more of his career on screen than in the kitchen, Stone’s culinary resume is fairly impressive. And at Maude, he’s assembled a staff that can tout similar levels of experience. The restaurant focuses on a primary ingredient every month, and constructs a tasting menu (only option available) of 10-14 courses around that, at a reasonable price range of $75-95/person. For the month of June, the ingredient was morel mushrooms, so the tasting menu was $115/person.

What I really liked about the focus and progression of our dinner at Maude was that the restaurant never tried to force the issue of reminding the diners that morels was the main ingredient, and that it needed to be the centerpiece of each course. Rather, there were courses where morels were barely utilized or creatively integrated, but were there because they fit well within the scheme of things. That’s what a great fine dining restaurant tasting menu strives for – having a central focus, but keeping a nice progression, and taking chances here and there.

By those accounts, the morels menu at Maude definitely knocked it out of the park. And from everything I’ve heard from previous and future months, it seems as if the restaurant has maintained that high level of creativity and execution throughout. And by creativity and execution, the kitchen has done a good job tip-toeing between respecting the classic approaches and exploring the more progressive formats. It’s a very smooth integration of both – none of the tongue-in-cheek executions you’d see at modernist places.

Also, I was also very impressed at how light the food was. By light, I don’t mean that it’s under-seasoned or healthy, but rather in comparison to how each course appeared and the components involved. I was eating this huge raviolo with consumme (a course that was brought out by Chef Stone himself), expecting it to be very heavy. But it was actually rather refreshing, and the broth even balanced out the dish – just an example.

So yeah – definitely very impressed with what Chef Stone has accomplished with Maude. It’s pumping out Michelin-quality cuisine at a reasonable entry price and neighborhood-esque comfort level. Despite that, the front of the house is extremely professional, knowledgeable, and runs like clockwork without being stuffy (I’m talking about you, Manresa). I’m definitely looking forward to future meals…if I can even get a reservation.

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Risotto – citrus butter, chicken mousse

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Kampachi – avocado, herbs, passion fruit snow

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Scallop – wild garlic, watermelon mind, roe

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Duck Egg – summer squash, horseradish, smoke

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Raviolo – consomme, truffle crumble, watercress

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Pork Belly – jalapeno, daikon, carrot

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Lamb – green garbanzo, eggplant, leek

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Taleggio – onion, charred peach, nasturtium

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Ice Cream Bar – coffee, chocolate, cocoa nib

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Black Forest Floor – dark cherry, chocolate, hazelnut

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Mignardises – blueberry financier, tropical fruit tart, raspberry bonbon

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Morel salt

Grade: A-
Cuisine: American (probably appropriate to say Californian, to be more specific)
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
Price: $$$$ (June tasting menu featuring morels was $115/person, but excluding that and most likely the upcoming November menu featuring truffles, the price range of the menus is $75-95/person)

Maude on Urbanspoon

Red Medicine [3]

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(323) 651-5500
redmedicinela.com

Red Medicine is a very polarizing restaurant. It has its fans (like myself) who defend the progressive, Vietnamese-inspired cooking as forward-thinking cuisine that cannot be found anywhere else. On the other hand, there are plenty of diners in LA who see the restaurant as arrogant and gimmicky, and rather “fusion-y” with no real sense of direction. The restaurant has done itself no favors in the past, whether it be the “unmasking” of LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila, or the more recent Twitter incident where they publicly shamed no-shows. In fact, they are probably more appreciated by chefs and out-of-town diners than the masses here in the city who pride themselves on dining at what’s the next hot thing, or the next critical darling. And that’s too bad, because I do believe Red Medicine is sophisticated dining at its finest and most creative, one that can exist in a much more formal setting, but is what it is because it’s in LA. And that’s not a bad thing, although the level of appreciation might come with such territory. But put this restaurant in NYC or SF, and it probably has a Michelin star.

The controversial restaurant is also one that has consistently gotten better over time. I liked my first visit, and I really liked my next visit, and I loved my most recent visit from a couple of weeks ago. With each visit, the flavors get more bold, the profiles get more complex, and the combinations get more cohesive. But these characteristics are some of the aspects that make the restaurant so polarizing. It’s not a matter of complaining that diners aren’t sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate the dishes here, but rather more of a “there’s too fucking much going on here and I just want to enjoy my food” sentiment. And that’s just fine – this restaurant isn’t for everyone, and the restaurant knows it. It’s true to its own vision, however weird and complicated that may be. You just have to go in with an open mind. Also, those of you who’ve had service issues in the past – I can truly say that I’ve never encounter such problems. Water was always refilled, servers were informative and checked in often without being intrusive, and dishes were cleared after every course.

On this visit, Lawrence and I got the tasting menu (now of public knowledge and on the menu), and we added 4 supplemental dishes to make a custom 10-course meal. The standard 6-course tasting, at $65, isn’t really much of a steal, but it does have dishes that aren’t on the regular menu, and I’d say that you would want to order at least 5 of the 6 dishes if you were going the a la carte route anyways. I don’t want to go into a course-by-course breakdown since I’ve already done it in the past, but if you have a group of 2 or 4 this is definitely the route to go (do note that each course is essentially just the dish served in the same manner as they would be a la carte, hence me suggesting an even number of diners). You can always add other dishes that sound intriguing, and there are plenty of those, or if you have a larger group, you can order one of the large format dishes (I’ve heard amazing things about the brisket in particular, which I haven’t gotten around to trying). And don’t forget the cocktails – just as good and creative as the dishes.

I’ve praised the birch ice dessert to many people in the past, and it’s again a highlight of my meal. There’s so much going on in the dessert – different flavor profiles, different textures, even different temperatures. You have to get a little of everything in one bite to truly appreciate and enjoy it though. And the trout roe appetizer was essentially the dessert in savory form. From the different things working with and against each other, to the dish composition, right down to the fish bowl presentation and the ice cover on top, the trout roe was executed just as well as the birch ice. Future protip at Red Medicine: order anything that comes in a fish bowl. The other dishes were great as well – the restaurant has an uncanny ability for making me like the vegetarian dishes more than the protein-based ones. But therein lies a problem, if there is any – the “weakest” link of the menu (and this is more of the case at more places than people think) is the meat-based main courses. Last time, the akaushi beef dish was by far the weakest, a dry piece of meat without any flavor (and unfortunately, a variation of such dish suffered the same fate during Darin Dines’ most recent visit). The lamb shoulder dish was cooked well and tasted fine, but in comparison to the other dishes, was rather…boring.

But one decent dish does not deter my dining experience at Red Medicine, and I’m sure many people enjoyed or will enjoy dishes like the lamb shoulder. But I don’t think it’s the strength of the restaurant to execute straightforward protein courses. I really do love the restaurant though, and highly recommend it to everyone I know. Those who have dismissed it after facing initial disappointment, or were turned off by their rather immature attitudes on social media, should really give it another shot. On a Saturday night, there were plenty of seats available, going back to my earlier point of the LA diners’ apathy towards the restaurant. If the bar served the full menu, I’d probably go much more often, as the restaurant is open until 2am EVERY NIGHT (a true late-night gem, but one that’s not really priced in the hangover/munchies range). But for now, an occasional visit rekindles my love and appreciation for such sophistication, and more importantly, pleasure to the taste buds.

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

Biodynamic Leeks

Biodynamic Leeks – yuzu, buttermilk ($15)

2nd Course: Custard of Fresh Cream

2nd Course: Custard of Fresh Cream

Santa Barbara Uni

Santa Barbara Uni – almond milk, kei apple ($18)

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts – shallots, fish sauce ($9)

3rd Course: Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast

3rd Course: Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast

4th Course: Young Potatoes

4th Course: Young Potatoes

5th Course: Lamb's Shoulder

5th Course: Lamb’s Shoulder

Coconut Baravois

Coconut Baravois – coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant ($9)

6th Course: Shaved Ice of Redwood Stems
6th Course: Shaved Ice of Redwood Stems

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Asian Beverly Hills $$$ A-

Previous Visits: (1) (2)

BierBeisl

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BierBeisl
9669 S Santa Monica Blvd, Ste 2
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 271-7274
http://www.bierbeisl-la.com/

An authentic Austrian restaurant in LA? Ha! Talk about a rarity – it’s like catching Mew in the original Pokemon. Despite having one of the country’s most prominent chefs and restaurateurs in Austrian Wolfgang Puck in the city, his presence in LA over the decades had not produced a single restaurant dedicated to serving food from his homeland (although Spago used to have some Austrian dishes before the renovation last year). Maybe there have been some under-the-radar restaurants that serve legit Austrian fare in the city, but I’ve yet to read or hear about them – that is, until BierBeisl opened early last year.

Located on Little Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills, BierBeisl is run by Chef Bernhard Mairinger, whose statuesque appearance belongs more as a center on my pick-up basketball team rather than hunching over in his miniature kitchen whipping out Austrian classics.  An Austrian himself, Chef Mairinger was probably fed up with the lack of Austrian culinary options in the city, and decided to do something about it himself. Since it’s opening, BierBeisl has racked up some impressive accolades, including a James Beard Semifinalist nomination for Chef, and a spot on Jonathan Gold and LA Weekly’s respective Top 101/99 lists of 2013.

I visited BierBeisl twice, once before their “spring break” (they took a week off for vacation in March I think), and once after. That was also the time they rolled out their happy hour menu. Not advertised anywhere (including their own website – I believe I found out via LAist), the happy hour menu consists of their entire sausage menu being priced at $7 (dinner menu prices $8-12), as well as select draft beer priced at $7 as well – 4-6pm weekdays. On my first visit, I tried the kasekrainer, which is a Polish-esque sausage that was stuffed with Swiss cheese that oozed out beautifully when bitten. On my second visit, I tried the weisswurst, a veal sausage simmered in milk and onions. Its flavor is much more mild than the kasekrainer, which had a nice combination of salty and peppery flavors. The weisswurst, which comes in a pair, was much more refined, perhaps even too much so. Definitely stick to the kasekrainer – that’s what everyone else does.

As for their other dishes, I also tried the pork schnitzel on my first visit – arguably the signature dish of Austria. The pork cutlets were finely pounded to a nice, flat shape and tenderness, then breaded and pan-fried in butter. Might sound heavy, but it actually wasn’t too bad. The pork was extremely juicy, and the breading was thin and flavorful. Think of it as Austrian tonkatsu. The accompanying lingonberry jam, fresh lemon, and delicious vinegary potato salad proved to be effective in balancing the dish. I tried the sauteed veal sweetbreads on my second visit as my main (although it’s technically a starter), and it’s good enough to convert even the most offal-adverse of diners. Too bad it’s not on the menu right now…

Definitely don’t forget dessert while dining at BierBeisl. For those of you saddened by the removal of it from Spago’s menu, you might not miss a beat eating the version of kaiserschmarrn here. Think of it as a cross between pancake and crepe, shredded but kept fluffy with a slight crust. Amazing. Not as amazing was the “secret” dessert from the following visit. I forgot the exact name for it, but it was basically a mini chocolate souffle of sorts, topped with a scoop of gianduja gelato, hazelnut, and a hint of sea salt. It was pretty good, but standard, and not worth the $12. I will have to try the apfelstrudel (apple strudel) next time. Also don’t forget to try the different Austrian and German beers available, as well as trying legit schnapps (not the fruity crap that fucked you up in college).

This was my first and second time trying authentic Austrian cuisine, and it is something both homey and sophisticated, while being just downright delicious. This type of sophistication is something you don’t expect to find in the heart of Beverly Hills (that’s right, I didn’t stutter). I sat at the bar on both visits, and had a great time chatting with the staff (with Shalimar in particular), while also learning a lot (including how Austrian food is NOT German food haha). Despite its accolades and distinction as a hot spot in the likes of The Hollywood Reporter, the restaurant didn’t seem very busy during my dinners (but that could be because I was eating at 6pm). Note: 2 hour free parking in the lot across the street on Roxbury.

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Käsekrainer
Käsekrainer ($11, $7 at Happy Hour)

Original Vienna Schnitzel - Pork
Original Vienna Schnitzel – Pork ($22)

Kaiserschmarrn
Kaiserschmarrn ($11)

2nd Visit:

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Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads ($18)

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Weisswurst ($12, $7 at Happy Hour)

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“Secret Dessert” ($12)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Austrian Beverly Hills $$$ B+

BierBeisl Authentic Austrian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Urasawa

3/3/12

It’s been WAY too long since I celebrated my birthday at Urasawa last March and, to be honest, the details of this meal have eluded me. That’s the price to pay for procrastinating on writing the post for so long. I’m sure you can find similar meals at Urasawa chronicled by other bloggers, ones who are much better photographers and writers than yours truly (FYI: this was still winter, and the menu stays fairly consistent  throughout each season). Therefore, I won’t elaborate on a dish-by-dish recap of the dinner (not that I can do it well anyways at this point). I will say, however, that there is a “method” to this madness of culinary negligence, and that is there aren’t really enough words to truly express how gratifying this meal, no, experience was.

Let’s get this out of the way: Urasawa is EXPENSIVE. Like one of the most expensive restaurants in the U.S. expensive. Base was $375/person, and I believe I ended up paying $500+. So yeah, this is a once-in-a-lifetime meal for us commoners. And you know what? It was worth every penny (you’re getting 30+ items). You’re really not going to a place like Urasawa and expect to cut corners here, or skimp on a dollar there, because you’re not expecting Hiro-san to pull the same punches, either. This is the man who gets the absolute first choice for seafood at IMP every morning, and meticulously orchestrates every single detail of your meal. If I had to categorize the meal, I guess it’s considered a “sushi kaiseki,” not a true sushi nor an authentic kaiseki, but a combination of the two set in a pristine and intimate patron-itamae setting.

Just consider your experience (I continuously refer to the meal here as an experience, because it’s about more than just the food) a trip to Japan and meal at a Michelin 2 or 3-star restaurant (Urasawa itself received a 2-star rating before Michelin stopped with the L.A. guides), but minus the airfare and lack of communication. Hiro-san isn’t fluent in English obviously, but the man is an encyclopedia of Japanese food and culture, and isn’t shy on sharing his childhood stories, dish on current events (especially involving celebrities who’ve dined there), and even some wisecrack jokes – all while focused like a laser on preparation of our food. We even spent an hour chatting with the man after our meal ended, which meant that we stayed at the restaurant for around 4 hours.

So if you have some major milestone to celebrate, or are just aching to burn your money, don’t hesitate to make it rain at Urasawa…

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Chris Hei grade: A+

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 247-8939

Urasawa on Urbanspoon

Kiyokawa

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Every time Lawrence is in town, we choose a different sushi restaurant to try, because everyone knows that sushi in LA >>> Norcal, and both of us are big sushi aficionados. Between the two of us, we had already visited the likes of Urasawa, Kiriko, and Sushi Zo. Next up on our list was a choice between Kiyokawa and Mori Sushi, and I suggested the former because it looked more casual and Lawrence had to rush to a party right after dinner (he even packed extra tank tops – we’ll be political here with the word usage). I feel that Kiyokawa is still coasting below the radar, while other more prominent and “sexier” sushi places take their turns under the spotlight. But the restaurant does have a big fan in Go(l)d himself, and SinoSoul recommended the place to me a while back too.

I had made the reservation a few days before our dinner, but the entire sushi bar had been booked up (*gasp*). Undeterred, we settled for the table and still ordered the omakase. The two of us were actually given a nice four-top isolated at the front right side of the restaurant, which gave it a private-room-type of feeling with all the plants and decorations surrounding the table. Sexy man date: check. Each of us ordered a beer to start off, then the magic show began…

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Forgive me if I’m lacking on accuracy and details, as I didn’t take any notes and this dinner was 3+ months ago. But the presentation in this first course was quite…whimsical. Opening up the “sandals,” each of us received a fried ball of tofu and whitefish (forgot to ask what fish). The batter was very light (might have been rice flour – had a rice cracker-like texture), and the flavor was pretty mild. But a nice amuse of sorts to start the meal.

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Next up was a trio of sashimi combinations inside of different citrus “cups.” On the left, we had a halibut sashimi + sunomono. The middle was smoked salmon with red onions I believe. And the right had some lightly-cooked shrimp not quite small enough to be considered a tartare. Simple enough, but refreshing. And I actually used a little of the juice from the “lids” to add a welcoming acidity to the sashimi.

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Nemo accompanied the next course, which was a duo of amaebi and hama hama oyster. The amaebi was very fresh (the tentacles were still moving – always a joy to see), and the oyster went well with the ponzu and a tiny bit of uni. After I finished, the head was brought back fried for me, with a dash of sea salt on the side instead of the usual ponzu- nicely done.

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We were indeed enjoying life, but this next course further attributes to our joy that night. It was abalone done three ways: sashimi, grilled/sauteed(?), and fried. The awabi sashimi was fresh, as expected. Not sure if the top right one was grilled or sauteed, but had a nice kick from the yuzukosho(?). The fried one was good too, but paled in comparison to the other two preparations.

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Next up was a trio of sashimi: kanpachi, bigeye tuna, and scallop. All three variations were indeed fresh, but while I appreciated that and enjoyed myself, it just seemed a bit…boring here. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by my repeat trips to Kiriko and Shunji.

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This was kind of like an oden, with a cooked daikon radish sitting in a light dashi, and topped with uni and a dollop of red miso. Not a showy dish (especially if you take the uni out of it), but I always appreciate a good dashi (I usually gush over the one at Shunji’s).

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To end the omakase, we received a plate of sushi. I’m still terrible at identifying fishes (so please feel free to correct me, because I’m sure I’ll get at least one wrong), but I believe this was (from left to right): albacore, aji, hamachi, buri, and salmon. Basically, this was the sashimi trio – fresh, solid, and just a bit uninspiring. Now I know we can do better than this…

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…so I asked for another five-some of sushi. When asked what kind of sushi we wanted, I just said to have Sato-san (chef/owner) choose for us. And lo and behold, here was a plate of beauty. From the left: bluefin tuna (w/ caviar and gold flakes), fresh octopus, saba, tai, and…foie gras (w/ truffle and a nice glaze that wasn’t too sweet)!!! Much more impressive than the last plate. Four of them were on the specials board I believe, and the fifth…it was after July 1st, I’ll leave it at that (just a note – we technically didn’t order the foie gras, and it wasn’t on the menus, so they technically weren’t selling it either :P). I guess they finally knew we were serious :)

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Dessert was black sesame ice cream and yuzu sorbet. Standard, but a nice ending.

I really wished we had sat at the bar, because Sato-san seems like an artist at work from afar. He appears to work at a meticulous pace, taking his time with precise cutting and strongly emphasizing the plating. Just a couple of minor “complaints” which weren’t really such, as how are they supposed to know what we like and know when it was our first time there. That’s why being the itamae-patron relationship and being a regular at a sushi restaurant is essential to one’s evolution as a sushi diner. Your palate and knowledge increases and the chefs’ familiarity with you increases as well. I doubt they’ll remember me, but I look forward to my next omakase at Kiyokawa – that is, if I can find the time and money to fit it in between my scheduled visits of Kiriko and Shunji, as well as numerous other sushi restaurants I want to try. Sugar mama applications are available upon request…

Chris Hei grade: A-

Kiyokawa
265 S Robertson Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 358-1900

Kiyokawa  Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Momed

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I hate parking in Beverly Hills, especially during lunchtime. HATE IT. If it wasn’t such a damn hassle, I would make my way over to Momed much more often.

While the restaurant itself is bright and airy, fitting of the area, the food is anything but. I’m not saying that the food at Momed doesn’t measure up, because it certain does (and more). But it’s a pleasant surprise to see such sophisticated Mediterranean cuisine being executed along the likes of bougie boutiques and overpriced cafes. I can’t speak of the full experience at the restaurant, since lunch is a much more casual affair – but if the duck shawarma is any indication, then I expect the dinner to be along the likes of Mezze.

Back to that duck shawarma. Not really a shawarma, as the meat is actually shredded duck confit (seasoned with cinnamin and cumin), wrapped with mache, tomatoes, and fig confit in a warm flatbread. There is a garlic spread on the side that is reminiscent of the one you’d find at Zankou (creamier though), which isn’t even needed, as the wrap has a nice combination of savory and sweet flavors that work well together. It’s like a giant peking duck wrapped with hoisin sauce in the mushu wrapper, Mediterranean-style. And it’s a good thing that this shawarma is big too, as $14 ain’t a cheap lunch (but fitting of the area). But it’s worth it. Whether it’s worth the parking hassle is another story (it is – I’m just lazy).

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Momed
233 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 270-4444

Momed on Urbanspoon

Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory

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As part of my self-serving lunch section of the blog (since I’m really doing it to create more lunch options for myself), I polled a dozen of my coworkers on what their top 5 lunch spots were. I’ve been to most of their choices, or am fairly indifferent about the ones I haven’t been. But one choice, by coworker Melody, caught my attention immediately: Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory. She really recommended the place for their burgers, but I remembered reading about Jeff’s Gourmet re: the Kosher Corridor in LA Weekly, as well as the publication’s top 10 best hot dogs list (at #7). So last Thursday, I decided to give the place a go.

I was determined in ordering 1 of the gourmet sausages and 1 of the regular hot dogs, but while I was looking up the address of the place I stumbled upon this LA Times article. The article sung praises for Jeff’s old-fashioned pastrami sandwich, and it didn’t help the cause when coworker Han was coincidentally bragging about how he brought a Langer’s pastrami sandwich to lunch that day. For a wuss who proclaims himself as agnostic, I do have an affinity towards believing in “fated” events. And there it was on the specials board when I arrived at the restaurant: the old-fashioned. They callin’ me…

Determined to be a kosher fatty, I ordered an old-fashioned and a regular hot dog with grilled onions. First of all, the hot dog, while fairly standard, was pretty damn good. Jeff’s makes all of their hot dogs and sausages in-house, as well as cures and seasons their deli meats as well. In this case, the house-made aspect was evident – the hot dog had a cleaner taste than the street hot dogs I’m more accustomed to. But I didn’t write 300+ words so far to talk about the hot dog. It’s all about the old-fashioned here.

The sandwich was old-fashioned indeed: thick-cut pastrami slices with deli mustard on rye bread. It’s very easy to hear that and immediately discredit it as some cheap imitation of the legendary version that can be found at Langer’s (and understandably so). But while Langer’s has essentially perfected the execution of the cured and seasoned pastrami, Jeff’s takes a (literally) sloppier approach. The beautiful slices of pastrami are unapologetic-ally bursting with fat, loaded with enough juice to soak the toasted rye bread as if it was dipped a la Philippes. You pick up alternating hints of garlic and smoky flavors with each enormous bite, but the star is that fat. Kosher pork belly, if you will.

It’s not the cheapest of options at $15/sandwich, but such delicacy transcends a moot price point. I will definitely be back to try other items on their extensive menu (the boerewors sausage and the western burger in particular), but if that old-fashioned is there on the specials board, it’ll be might hard to say anything but l’chaim and submit to the Old Testament. In my search for a greater purpose in life at lunchtime during work hours, I have finally found my calling.

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The Old Fashioned Pastrami Special ($14.95) – a ½ pound of hand-carved garlicky pastrami on crusty rye bread with deli mustard. Served with cole slaw and a pickle.

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Jeff’s Kosher Dog ($3.25) + grilled onions

Chris Hei grade: A-

Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory
8930 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 858-8590

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